Canada ranks as the third most popular destination for international business students, a survey from London-based consultants Carrington Crisp and the European Foundation for Management Development indicates.

For better or worse, a country’s national reputation can influence where students choose to pursue their business education.

Canada is basking in a global glow, according to a new study on business school branding.

Immigrant-friendly policies here, nationalist rhetoric elsewhere and a Canadian prime minister with international cachet have all created positive perceptions of Canada among overseas business school applicants, according to the latest Business of Branding study by London-based consultants Carrington Crisp and the European Foundation for Management Development, an association of business schools and corporations.

“Get out there,” study author Andrew Crisp says in offering advice to Canadian business schools. “There are enormous opportunities. International students need to know more about what Canada and Canadian business schools can offer them.”

The branding study, conducted shortly after the November of 2016 election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, surveyed more than 1,400 respondents (most of them current students) representing 85 nationalities.

The United States remains the most popular destination for study abroad, selected by 67 percent of respondents despite Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Still, of those surveyed (in December of 2016 and January of 2017), 40 percent were less likely to study in the United States while an almost equal proportion of 39 percent said the election results had made no difference.

Since the presidential election in 2016, U.S. efforts to impose travel bans and limit immigration have only added to the uncertainty for potential applicants from abroad, says Mr. Crisp.

In the survey, Britain was the second most popular destination and drew interest from 44 percent of respondents. The declining value of the pound, effectively reducing education costs for foreign students, still makes Britain an appealing destination even with lingering uncertainty over Britain’s proposed exit from the European Community, according to Mr. Crisp.

Canada came in a close third in the survey, with 39 percent choosing this country as an attractive place to pursue business education. Australia, which has aggressively targeted overseas students for years, was one percentage point below Canada.

The mixed signals from the United States and Britain, dominant players in overseas student recruitment, create an opening for Canadian business schools to expand their global footprint, says Mr. Crisp.

“Canada at the moment has everything to play for in terms of attracting international students,” he says. “It’s not the U.S., it is English-language speaking and has a reasonably strong economy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has a global profile like some Canadian prime ministers have not had in recent time, and a positive one,” he adds. “All that goes together to create an attractive package and an awareness [of Canada] that Canadian business schools can capitalize on.”

That opportunity is not lost on the 62-member Canadian Federation of Business School Deans, which is close to completing a branding project to raise the collective profile of its members with students at home and abroad and employers.

“We are working on telling the business school story as a group,” says executive director Tim Daus. “One of the first steps is the branding project, which for now is a web portal that promotes the value of Canadian business education.”

The proposed website, scheduled to go online in 2018, would list every Canadian business school, with a brief description of its programs. “As an association, we’re moving toward telling the value proposition for business schools in general and this [website] is one of the things we are doing.”

Country reputation is beyond the control of individual schools, but they have their own tools to build a “distinct brand identity,” according to the report.

But there is often a gap between what schools say they do and evidence to back up claims.

“A lot of schools tend to think in the same way, focusing on leadership, entrepreneurship, sustainability and internationalism,” says Mr. Crisp. “You have to say those things but are you more of one [program focus] than another?” he asks.

In the study, for example, 79 percent of respondents say their school has identified what it does well but just 66 percent saw a clear school strategy to differentiate itself from other providers of business education.

One increasingly important building block in brand identity is career services, according to the report, given rising student demand for career coaching, in-school work internships and post-graduation employment.

“In the jigsaw that makes up school identity and brand, I would have said it was the alumni [component] that was the missing piece,” says Mr. Crisp, of brand development issues five years ago. “Today, the piece that hasn’t been invested in and needs some attention is careers.”

More than ever, he says, business schools will have to show how their programs benefit students, employers and society at large. To that end, he urges schools to blend statistics about their performance – such as employment after graduation and diversity of the student body – with compelling stories to what makes them special in a crowded market.

“If you have a story that takes the evidence and makes it real, then people can connect with that,” says Mr. Crisp.

From: The Globe and Mail  |  10.26.17  |  By: Jennifer Lewington

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